The Goal (NO 361639, 459m)
Hill of Couternach (NO 356659, 512m)
470 metres of ascent
The Airlie Memorial stands on the shoulder of Tulloch Hill, which is the prow of a long ridge separating Glen Prosen to the west from Glen Clova in the east. It’s another of those places conjured into legendary status in my childhood, because my father would often point it out and extol its virtues as we drove past on our way to somewhere else entirely. Every now and then in adult life I would remember that I still hadn’t got around to visiting it. So a few days short of the winter solstice, with limited time on my hands, I decided that Airlie Memorial Day had finally arrived, after half a century of anticipation and prevarication.
But as I drove up the road between Kirriemuir and Dykehead, I began to feel a few misgivings. Chainsaws had been at work on either side of the road, clearing fallen trees and branches. A mere fortnight after the destructive winds of Storm Arwen was perhaps not the best time to embark on a walk that began with a climb through forest. Oh well, I thought. We’ll soon see.
I parked in the rough and muddy little car-park at the corner of the Glen Prosen road (NO 371606), where a post-Arwen notice from the Airlie Estate advised me that I should not attempt to clear fallen trees myself, as this could result in injury. That didn’t sound promising, but I set off up the steep track to see what progress I could make. And things went swimmingly at first, until I got high on the exposed southern shoulder of the hill, where all retrospective hell let loose. The path disappeared under the branches of a fallen tree, and beyond that was a blasted landscape of sheared-off stumps, root-systems tilted to the vertical, and heaped branches. Oh dear.
So I picked my way upwards, occasionally encountering little segments of the track barricaded by fallen timber at either end, but mainly just improvising a line that trended uphill. At which point, I climbed into low cloud. Turning back seemed like it might involve even more effort than just pressing on to the tree-line, and eventually I eased my way through a final tangle of branches to see the silhouette of the Airlie Memorial looming at me through the mist, like the opening paragraph of a Gothic novel.
For a fly-round on a clear day, take a look at this drone footage, which also shows my onward route along the ridge, as well as the surrounding forest in happier days:
I skirted the impressive bank of cotoneaster that surrounds the base of the tower, and headed north along the ridge-line track. Ahead, sunlight began to glimmer, and I eventually walked out into clear air, with a view of my next hill, intriguingly named The Goal.
On the near skyline at right, you can see my next problem. Before rising on to the rounded moorland summits ahead, my track traverses one more little patch of woodland. And it was blocked by another tangle of windfall. Stymied, I looked around for alternative routes, and immediately spotted a track coming purposefully up the hillside from Glen Prosen.
It wasn’t marked on my map, but I figured it would either represent another route into the forestry, or circumvent the little patch of trees entirely. So I dropped down a short distance over rough ground, scrambled over a ludicrously deep ditch … and discovered that the new track terminated at a turning circle and what looked like a chemical toilet, a few metres short of a new deer-fence bounding the forestry.
So I found myself obliged to make a long descent through a previously forested area that had been cleared and replanted. I was aiming for the track that starts from a layby on the Glen Prosen road near the old farm of Dalchip and rises on to the western shoulder of The Goal—you can see it in the distance in the photograph below.
I’ve always thought that, if I ever break my leg on the hill, it will be on this sort of reused forestry ground—full of hidden holes and old tangled branches. So I took my time and eventually arrived at the track, and the gate through which it accesses the open hillside. Freedom! From there, it was easy enough to regain my lost height and arrive at the round summit of The Goal.
I’d been seriously contemplating baling straight back down into the glen, given the tiresome clambering that had been involved in getting this far. But the weather was clearing, and the play of low sunlight and mist across the autumnal grass of the ridge was inviting.
So I followed the track and the fence in straight-line segments, across the whaleback above the Craigs of Lethnot, and on to Hill of Couternach. In clear weather this would be a fine viewpoint into upper Glen Prosen to the west and the elbow of lower Glen Clova to the north. As it was, I had only tantalizing misty glimpses beneath the clouds.
Then it was back to the Craigs of Lethnot, where I diverted to the little cairn above the crags, for a view of the mist billowing through Glen Clova.
Back at The Goal, I picked up the track down to Dalchip and the road. Ahead, the Airlie Memorial, clear of mist at last, was silhouetted on the sky-line.
Once on the tarmac, I had just a mile to walk to get back to the car. But I marched on past the car park for a short distance to take in one last sight. My own photographs suffered from the poor lighting conditions, so I’m offering the one below instead, taken by the Boon Companion on a brighter day:
This is the Scott-Wilson Monument, raised in memory of Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Edward Wilson. It’s admittedly an odd place to find an Antarctic memorial—it’s here because Wilson stayed at nearby Burnside Cottage in 1907 and 1908, during breaks from his work on the Grouse Disease Inquiry, and was visited there by Scott. Much of what would become the British Antarctic Expedition was therefore planned within a mile of this out-of-the-way corner in the road.
You can find out more about the monument on the website of the sculptor, Bruce Walker.